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PHOTO BY BRETT OLIVEIRA Rody Gilkeson (Jean Valjean), Patrick Davis (Marius), PHOTO BY BRETT OLIVEIRA Rody Gilkeson (Jean Valjean), Patrick Davis (Marius), "Les Misérables," July 26 - Aug. 3, Notre Dame Summer Theatre, Notre Dame High School, Easton

Lehigh Valley debut of 'Les Miserables' rises up at Notre Dame Summer Theatre

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 by REBEKAH HAWK Special to The Press in Focus

Notre Dame Summer Theatre is presenting the Lehigh Valley debut of the Broadway musical version of "Les Misérables."

The musical is based on the 1862 novel written by French author Victor Hugo. There've been four film adaptations, including the Oscar-winning 2012 musical version.

Now in its fourth season, Notre Dame Summer Theatre (NDST) presents "Les Misérables," 7:30 p.m. July 26, 27, Aug. 2, 3 and 2 p.m. July 28 and Aug. 3, auditorium, Notre Dame High School, 3417 Church Road, Easton.

The cast of 52 is the largest-ever for NDST. The "Les Miserables" cast is 10 more than for its second-largest show, "My Fair Lady," presented in its second season at Bethlehem Catholic High School, according to the show's Director Rody Gilkeson, NDST co-producer with his wife, Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson, who is the show's Music Director.

The school version of "Les Miserables" has been presented in the Lehigh Valley. "Les Miserables" is scheduled to return to Broadway in 2014, so the rights will be on hold again.

The large cast has its benefits.

"When you hear the whole cast [as well as] the solos, it just gives you goose bumps," Gilkeson says.

"I'm just blown away by the tale and total number of performers in the cast," says Gilkeson, Fine Arts Chairman and Director of Theatre at Notre Dame High School where Marsh-Gilkeson is Choral Director.

Gilkeson plays Jean Valjean, the Hugh Jackman role in last year's film musical. Marsh-Gilkeson plays Fantine, the role for which Anne Hathaway received a supporting actress Oscar.

Rob Clausnitzer plays Javert (Russell Crowe in the movie), the fanatic police inspector in search of Valjean for stealing a piece of bread.

The eight-year-old Cosette is played by Catherine Scheidel. Eighteen-year-old Cosette (the role played by Allentown's Amanda Seyfried in the film musical) is Madeline Prentice.

Meghan Kohler is Choreographer. Marsh-Gilkeson is Costume Coordinator-Designer.

"It's the best quality cast without the Broadway prices," says Gilkeson. "And not only do the actors range in ages from seven to 65 with 52 people in the cast, but they have great talent and they put emotion into the songs."

The cast includes college graduates who majored in music, college students studying music, secondary and elementary school students and community theater members including Patrick Davis (Marius), Keith Brown (Foreman), Ted Williams (Thenardier), Mary Catherine Bracali (Madame Thenardier) and Matt Walczer (Bishop of Digne).

There are six families involved in the NDST production. So, this "Les Miserables" is a family affair.

The abridged version of the book is 829 pages while the unabridged version has 1,488 pages. The stages musical clocks in at about two hours. The action moves swiftly.

"In one minute towards the end," says Gilkeson, "I'm giving my daughter's hand in marriage and the next I'm an old man dying in a chair."

There is very little spoken dialogue in the show.

"It's more of an opera," says Gilkeson, "It really is the most beautiful musical."